Well, well, what do we have here? The Avalanche have a 5-game winning streak on their hands, and I'm not quite sure how to handle it. They are still longshots for the postseason play and we won't even talk about the "p"-word here unless the Avs are still within 6 points of the Wild after the two teams meet this Sunday. Even if that doesn't happen, though, the Avs are doing a lot of things that give hope that this team will be in contention next season.
By several accounts, the veterans on the team have been working hard to keep the team loose lately, and it's shown on the ice. The team has been patient, hard-working, and in control. Four of the five wins have been close - the types of games this team usually loses. They've been playing extremely well in their own end - only Detroit has managed more than 24 shots against the team. Peter Budaj has been solid over the stretch, and, again, other than the Detroit game, he hasn't needed to be spectacular to get the win. I very pleased with the way this team is playing, top to bottom, and am just giddy thinking about how much better they could be next year with the addition of Leopold and a couple of free agents.
Highlights from the game
17:50 Strange goal to start off the game. There's a faceoff to the left of Budaj in the Colorado zone. Before the draw, Ian Laperriere swaps with Ossi Vaananen to pair off with Patrick Kaleta. The two start jawing; Lappy, seems to think they have an agreement to fight, as his gloves go flying as soon as the puck drops. Kaleta, though, pulls a Barnaby and keeps playing. The Sabres win the draw, get it back to the blueline, and Nathan Paetsch scores before anyone on the Avs can figure out why Lappy's equipment is scattered all over the ice. Paetsch, by the way, is a rookie who scored his first NHL goal on Saturday, and now has scored in back to back games.
15:30 Thomas Vanek has a good chance at the side of the net, but hits the post.
15:26 Immediately following that post, Koleta takes a run at Jeff Finger. Finger ducks out of the way and Kaleta goes flying into the side boards.
14:46 Peter Budaj makes a nice glove save on a close-range shot from Clarke MacArthur.
12:13 The Avs are looking extremely flat and tired. This could be a long game.
12:05 Kaleta, playing in his 6th NHL game, levels Ben Guite with a strong (and clean) hit. Scott Parker immediately jumps on Kaleta, giving the Sabres a powerplay.
11:00 Said Buffalo powerplay looks like ass.
10:10 Kudos to Scott Parker. His penalty (and the Sabres inept powerplay) gives the Avs their first goal. Milan Hejduk starts it off, carrying the puck in alone against 2 Buffalo defenders, before dropping it back to Paul Stastny. Stastny makes a few moves, takes a shot that goes off of Teppo Numminen's skate, gets the rebound, takes another shot that goes off the side of the net, gets the rebound, skates around the net, and passes to a wide open Milan Hejduk, camped in front of Ryan Miller in a lounge chair with a mai-tai. The Sabres powerplay had 4 forwards on the ice, but that doesn't really explain why no one stuck with Hejduk; Jason Pomonville curiously skated right to Hejduk...and then kept right going. Odd, odd play from the Sabres. Numminen, by the way, would end up on the ice for all 3 Avalanche goals. Stastny (queue the Peter Stastny montage) ties Teemu Selanne's record for longest rookie scoring streak.
9:50 Kurt Sauer makes the hit of the game so far...on a referee.
8:15 Jochen Hecht centers a pass towards Pomonville. Kurt Sauer calmly intercepts the pass, something he does very well. After Stastny - and maybe Ken Klee - Kurt Sauer is the unexpected surprise of the season.
5:24 Kaleta gets two minutes for a trip on Tyler Arnason
2:25 Daniel Briere and Pomonville have a 2 on 1 breakout, but gets whistled for offsides. MSG color analyst Jim Lorentz thinks it's a bad call, despite seeing two replays that show Briere is a good two steps past the blueline when he finally gets the puck across. This play is probably the only real Andy Brickley Homeritis moment of the night. In general, Lorentz and PbP guy Rick "MayDay" Jeanneret were very good, and, in a refreshing bit of non-Altitude sickness, were occasinally critical of the Sabres.
19:48 Buffalo falls asleep again, giving the Avs a 2-1 lead. On a routine dump in, Ryan Miller moves to stop the puck behind the net, but he has to lay up as it's outside the stupid trapezoid. Milan Hejduk (and I can't say enough good things about the how nice it is to have him back to form) races in past two sluggish Buffalo defenders and gathers up the puck. Both D finally wake up and move to intercept Hejduk behind the net...leaving Brett McLean wide open.
14:39 A bit of a scrum develops after Ben Guite smokes Daniel Briere. Guite and Jochen Hecht go off, putting both teams at 4 on 4.
11:42 This has been a different game since the Hejduk goal back in the first. Buffalo has yet to take a shot in the 2nd period, and now they are the team that looks flat. I love how the Avs have rebounded here. You know they are tired, with this back to back road series, but they are still working their asses off out there.
9:35 Brad Richardson has a great scoring chance, but Ryan Miller gets his glove down on the ice to stop it, keeping his team in the game.
8:40 Chris Drury gets the Sabres first scoring chance of the period, but Budaj gets his stick in front of his five hole to make the stop.
7:18 Briere centers the puck off of Jason Pominville's skate and into the back of the net. The game is tied, 2-2.
5:31 Buffalo is getting the chances now, and it's Budaj's turn to keep his team in it.
3:42 Ossi Vaananen completes a good, physical shift.
1:00 Not too long after confusing Andrew Brunette with Milan Hejduk, Jeanerrett thinks that Scott Parker is Tyler Arnason. Parker is only 6 inches and 25 lbs heavier than Arnason, and has a juniper bush growing down from his chin. I can see how that could happen.
18:19 Buffalo gets caught napping again, and the Avalanche capitalize. This play starts with Ossi Vaananen, behind the Avalanche net. He advances, and makes a outlet pass to Andrew Brunette at the Sabres' blueline. Brunette tips it in, Joe Sakic gets to it first, and centers it to Wolski who somehow deflects it into the net. The MSG guys didn't pick this up, but if you watch the play again, Sakic started the play supporting Vaananen at the Avs' goal line. When Vaananen started out, Sakic raced up the left wing, outpacing all 5 Buffalo players to get to the puck. Simply an extraordinary effort from a guy old enough to be my...slightly older brother. Colorado leads 3-2. The scorers later change the goal from Wolski to Sakic and then even later back to Wolski.
17:24 Miller's best save(s) of the game. Richardson and Arnason break in 2 on 1. Arnason gets a shot off, but Miller is there with the blocker. The Sabre's defender overskates the puck; Arnason gets it back and gets another shot on net that Miller sets aside.
15:59 Hejduk has a breakaway chance, but Miller pokes it away at the last minute.
14:21 Superb save from Budaj on a deflection by Kalinen.
12:25 Another great save from Budaj, at least according to the MSG guys. I couldn't see the puck in the replay of Michael Ryan's point blank shot. I thought I heard the ringing of the post, but, no matter. If they say it was a great save, it was a great save.
9:21 McLean goes off for hooking. Something the Avs have been doing lately is utilizing 3 sets of PK forwards. Stastny and Hejduk start off, then Richardson and Guite. Lately, the third pairing would be McLean and Laperriere, but with McLean in the box, Stastny pulled double duty. I really like the aggressiveness of the forwards on the kill, and I think using 6 forwards instead of 4 has been a huge help here.
2:26 With the Avs trying to kill the clock, Stastny ties up the puck behind the Buffalo net. With three Sabres working him over, Stastny keeps it there so long, Brett McLean is able to skate off for a change.
:58 Brett Clark slips with the puck in his zone, but has the presence of mind to bat the puck out of the zone with his glove.
:23 Buffalo ices the puck, forcing Miller to go back into the net. Colorado has missed the empty net twice, but are in little danger of losing: Buffalo has no shots in the last 8 minutes. Colorado ends up outshooting the Sabres 13-4 in the last period.
I'm a few days behind on stats and stuff - those should be updated later today or possibly tomorrow. Glad to be back.